Australia cricket December 19, 2012

Clarke sets the benchmark high

Since taking over from Ricky Ponting Clarke has seemingly created a culture that is refreshingly open, honest and upbeat, even in adversity

"It's innocence when it charms us, ignorance when it doesn't" - Mignon McLaughlin

It's hard to tell at this stage whether the ball-tampering allegations will turn out to be a storm in a teacup or something that leads to greater intervention by the ICC. What is interesting though is the way it has been reported here in Australia, and the benchmark it has now set for the admirable team culture that Michael Clarke has already managed to establish in his short tenure as captain.

Since taking over from Ricky Ponting, whose captaincy was occasionally tainted by the perception that the spirit of cricket wasn't always adhered to, Clarke has seemingly created a culture that is refreshingly open, honest and upbeat, even in adversity. I use the word 'perception' with care when talking about Ponting's reign because opinions can be so varied on such a controversial topic so to label it thus merely acknowledges that in some quarters, Ponting's leadership era was perceived in that light.

Clarke, on the other hand, has a different personal brand to Ponting (and arguably very different to any former Australian captain in recent memory). I am prepared to take him at his word when he denies any knowledge or deliberate involvement in this latest ball-tampering saga because his record thus far speaks of a thoughtful and decent man who understands that the honour he is bestowed with as captain of Australia demands a certain level of dignity. Likewise Peter Siddle; I knew him as a young man when he was at the Cricket Academy in Brisbane and was always impressed by his demeanour and manner. There was very little to dislike about this big-hearted chap so I'm more than happy to take his word that he was not part of anything that was deliberately untoward.

What is interesting though is the moral high ground that the Australian team is now occupying, not necessarily of their own doing. In today's Australian newspaper, Peter Lalor attributes the following sentiments to Clarke. These words may not necessarily be Clarke's exact words, because it was not represented as a direct quote, but one can presume that it broadly represents Clarke's views. Lalor's words were "captain Michael Clarke said he was absolutely sure his players would not breach the spirit of the game."

If that is an accurate representation of Clarke's views, it is admirable that his team sets such high standards of behaviour as a benchmark rather than a retrospective defence of any untoward behaviour. Note, he is not saying that they "did not breach the spirit of the game" but he's actually elevating it to a higher plane by saying that his players "would not breach the spirit of the game". The nuance of those words, if accurately reflected, suggests a moral position that is laudable because it presupposes a culture that would not countenance engaging in sharp practices.

Clarke is not so much defending an accusation so much as proudly claiming an organisational culture that makes it clear that under his captaincy, Australia will always aim to play cricket in the right spirit. I sincerely hope it also extends to all aspects of the spirit of cricket including sledging, dissent, social media transgressions, respect for umpires/opposition players etc. If that is what Clarke's leadership stands for, long may he reign.

What will be interesting to see is if the Australian media (and a team led by Clarke) also extend that same respect and presumption of innocence, bordering on righteous indignation on the part of Siddle, to others under the spotlight in similar circumstances. Except in the case of the Shahid Afridi ball-biting incident, where the actions were clearly indefensible, we now owe it to our opponents to be similarly charitable if they are ever accused of not playing in the spirit of the game. After all, I'm sure Clarke would agree that such values are not the sole domain of the Australian team and that presumably all captains would also be equally sure that their players too would not breach the spirit of the game. We owe them that courtesy at least.

In a direct quote, Clarke goes on to say, "I 100% believe we always play in the spirit of the game, I don't think any of the Australian players would ever jeopardise that or do anything to ruin our reputation. We play hard on the field but we understand there is a line you can't cross and we play the right way."

Presumably he is speaking 'post-Clarke captaincy era' because it would be untenable (and untrue) to say that Australia (or any country for that matter) has always played in the spirit of the game and that they have never done anything to jeopardise that reputation. One can only think (hope?) that he is speaking for any team that is led by him because it has not always been thus. If all international captains were of similar ilk, and to be fair, most of the current captains around the world broadly reflect these values, then the spirit of cricket is in safe hands.

I can speak only of the Australian media because I read and listen to it every day (and being an Australian-based writer makes me one of them) when I say that it behoves us to afford the same sort of indignant, "of course he's innocent" sort of editorial slant when a player from another country is accused of ball-tampering too. Playing in the spirit of the game is a universal quality that all nations are equally capable of embracing and as writers, we are duty-bound to afford them that same generosity of spirit (until proven otherwise). Anything less than that is uncharitable at best, bordering on discriminatory or racist at worst.

In the same way that I am prepared to accept Clarke and Siddle's instant indignation, I am also prepared to accept that the initial complaint made by the Sri Lankan management was made in good faith and there was nothing sinister or malicious about it. It would be hypocritical to ascribe higher motives to one party over the other unless evidence of a sinister plot emerges later. There is not always the need to find a villain when looking for the truth.

For example, if a Pakistani bowler were to be accused of ball-tampering (and denies it), I would hope that we would be just as quick to write an initial story framing him in a positive light. To taint him with associated guilt just because Afridi had once been found guilty of a similar offence would be akin to labelling all South African captains as match-fixers just because Hansie Cronje once was. It is a ridiculous notion to think that the commitment to the spirit of cricket resides only in Australia in much the same way that is ridiculous to assume that just because someone is Australian, they are therefore afforded automatic immunity from ball-tampering. Vilifying either team in this latest incident leaves us open to accusations of selective bias and that too is surely not in the spirit of cricket writing.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on December 22, 2012, 5:14 GMT

    Atleast someone showed some courage. very well written. Sums up our feelings very well.

  • testli5504537 on December 21, 2012, 21:08 GMT

    Spot on!

    But it's stupid to presume honesty of an individual. I have seen MC had defended RP when they justified obvious bumped catches.

    SLCB with the current financial crisis will never act against the will of CA. Peter Siddel is quite safe even if he tampered with the ball. I don't say he did though. But there is a clear doubt in deed.

    I bet SL boys will make us proud in the next two games for sure.

    Lasith Malinga which ever the stories you tell you are a disappointment for most SL fans. You keep playing in EVERY big money earning tournaments,yet you don't want to help SL create a history by playing in a single yest match in this tour. Even you ball 15 overs per innings is enough for us. So,I don't respect Malinga so much to be honest.

  • testli5504537 on December 21, 2012, 15:37 GMT

    A fantastic article, coming from an Australian writer makes it a balanced view. I agree Clark is a very fair player he will not only be remembered for his batting but also as a great Australian Captain.

  • testli5504537 on December 21, 2012, 12:08 GMT

    can anyone who saw what seddle did explain me what he was doing

  • testli5504537 on December 21, 2012, 9:06 GMT

    Double standards at its very best!!ICC always barks at non-white nations but develop cold feet to take action against these Autralians,English,South Africans.Australia never play their cricket fairly,the less said about thier racist crowd the better!!

  • testli5504537 on December 21, 2012, 4:03 GMT

    I've posed this question a couple of times and never seen a response, but think it's relevant considering some typical responses to this piece. So often we hear Indian fans these days bragging about their complete dominance of the game's finances and administration. Yet, in the next breath it's still common to hear whinging that Indian/Asian players are always hard done by. So... Are you our unquestioned overlords? Or the poor, persecuted victims? Don't really think you can have it both ways.

  • testli5504537 on December 20, 2012, 23:33 GMT

    Confuscious, you seem confused mate. There are in excess of 40 comments, ranging in views from one set of opinions to the other, all of them expressed in a respectful and sensible way. Good debate, me thinks. Warren's comment at the very top of the page made me laugh. Apart from the fact that jingoism is not a criteria for being a writer (that's called propaganda), questioning someone's patriotism for raising philosophical questions in friendly debate hints at a deep-seated insecurity. In an article which unabashedly (and to the annoyance of some) praises both Clarke and Siddle, how that is interpreted as allegiance to a foreign team is beyond me. Regardless, what does allegiance/patriotism have to do with the price of eggs anyway? We're talking about a cricketing issue - this is not a citizenship loyalty test! Speaking of eggs, just had some for breakfast today (in reference to the very funny comment about eating babies for breakfast. That was a good one mate - enjoyed that!

  • testli5504537 on December 20, 2012, 16:48 GMT

    Micheal Jeh , What a load of rot you write. You say you take there word for it but your writing has major undertones contradicting your statement. You must have forgotten that Clarke said that he believes Australians have played in the spirit of cricket in all teams his has been part of. As for sharp practice , I think people must be ignorant to think that teams or players don't use sharp practice. A classic example would be batsmen that swap gloves with 2 minutes to go before the end of a session. In Addition its important to note that each country has there own style of playing the game , This is something that should never be tampered with, In Australia there is Niggle or Sledging if thats what you want to call it ain all levels of cricket from u14's up you will see it happen, and you know what I love it , it makes the game great to play it challenges your mental strength. Provided players are not speaking as the bowler starts his run -up a few words here and there are fin

  • testli5504537 on December 20, 2012, 11:57 GMT

    Michael Jeh says "is record thus far speaks of a thoughtful and decent man". Can't be referring to the guy who not so long ago refused to acknowledge an edge that flew to first slip and then claimed a catch off the turf? All this thing about taking someone's word is too simplistic - does not matter who were talking about.

  • testli5504537 on December 20, 2012, 7:40 GMT

    The obvious act of stupidity in all this comes from the Sri Lankan management. Their only basis for raising this with the match officials was that the channel 9 camera's had zoomed in on the ball. This is a frequent occurrence in channel 9 footage and usually accompanies a discussion of the balls condition - in Hobart it was a matter of interest because the ball was being scruffed up a lot by the wicket, but in general there is interest in the condition of the ball because of the possibility of reverse swing. The worst part of this is this comment, taken from a cricinfo article on the incident: "We have the footage with us," Senanayake had said. "We recorded the game and it's there for everybody to see. We saw something illegal and have reacted to that. I have spoken to the match referee informally. It's up to them to act now, but we will have to pursue it further if nothing happens." So nothing has happened, are they going to pursue this further?

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